Parenting Is A Creative Practice That Connects Me To My Ancestors

From an Anishinaabeg perspective, creative practice is not just about making art. I am carrying my ancestors forward and building our beautiful worlds.

by Quill Christie Peters
Stories Of Contemporary Indigenous Parenting

There are moments where parenting my daughter feels effortlessly innate. Amidst a Western tradition that treats parenting as if it’s something outside of ourselves that we need to be taught, there are moments where knowledge and practices pour out of me from deep within bone and belly.

Here I use “effortless” not to imply a lack of effort, but to signify that much of this effort feels like it comes from somewhere other than myself, the love and labor of my ancestors reaching me from the great beyond. I use the word “innate” to refer to that which always remains inside of us, and center the body as an access point to ancestral knowledge. As an Anishinaabeg artist, I experience this same sensation of effortless innateness when I create art, and I have come to place parenting within a larger continuum of creative practice. For me, parenting is creative practice.

From an Anishinaabeg perspective, creative practice is not just the making of aesthetic or skill-based artworks or activities, but rather a blurred spectrum of creation that involves building our futures in alignment with all our relations. Creative practice is world-building because it is the way we communicate non-literal, non-didactic, and spiritual knowledge with our communities. Creative practice is the thread that connects past to future through a complex web that evades the compartmentalization of art from life. Our creative practice is not just beadwork or paintings; it is also expansive relationships and it is also parenting.

This understanding sits in sharp contrast to the dominant narratives of what it means to parent, create, and shape our futures in the settler colonial context. Western parenting, an industry in itself, compartmentalizes parenting from the totality of world-building that it is and reproduces structures of oppression. In acknowledging parenting as creative practice, I am crediting the love and labor that is actively extended to me from the great beyond. I am honoring the knowledge that is innately within my body, and I am taking seriously my responsibility to shape the future into a more just and liberatory place for us all.

As an Anishinaabeg mother and artist, I wildly celebrate the interconnectedness, complexity, and undefinability of parenthood, creation, love, and wholeness.

I first started to recognize how differently I was parenting my daughter when I was confronted by others’ projections. People, often strangers, tried to connect with me through the lens of parenting as suffering. I want to clarify here that these interactions were not interactive dialogue about how parenting can be laborious, painful, and isolating. They felt like attempts to discredit my experience of parenting as an expansive dance within a larger continuum of creation. When my daughter took her first steps, so many people implied this was a burden. When my daughter was sleeping well or eating well, people would tell me to “just wait.” Any time I forwarded my parenting experience as something enriching or pleasant, the response was to tell me that, regardless, one day I will suffer.

I do not deny that parenting can be a process of suffering, particularly because of how we are isolated from extended structures of support through settler colonialism. But these projections I experience are not a nuanced engagement with this reality, but rather are one way settler colonial approaches to parenting are reflected and naturalized.

Anishinaabeg creative practice dances beyond the settler colonial context, but we still must grapple with it. There are many ways to understand settler colonialism, but one definition I’ve found useful is that settler colonialism is the removal of Indigenous bodies from our homelands in order to secure the theft of land for capitalist expansion and occupation. This is sustained through interlocking structures of domination, including white supremacy, ageism, ableism, cis-heteropatriarchy, and capitalism. Within the structure of capitalism in particular, adults of a working age are privileged at the expense of children and Elders. We are required to be hyper-individualistic and become siloed from our communities, families, and structures of care.

Children are often seen as impediments to the independence required to participate in capitalism and are considered subordinate beings that need to be taught and often dominated by the parent, whose responsibility is focused on the success of our individual lives and discrete family units.

Within the settler colonial world, the practice of parenting itself becomes compartmentalized from the larger responsibility to build our beautiful worlds. Parenting becomes relegated to the practice of keeping a child fed and clean, physically cared for and mentally stimulated, instead of acknowledging parenting as a diverse practice that needs to happen with all parts of our bodies and beings, resourced through all of our diverse relationships. The parent also becomes compartmentalized from the rest of their identity as a whole human being, and they are left mostly alone to grapple with the immense labor of raising a child while also being told they need to be taught how to parent externally.

As an Anishinaabeg mother and artist, I actively resist the compartmentalization of my life and I wildly celebrate the interconnectedness, complexity, and undefinability of parenthood, creation, love, and wholeness. I find such deep purpose and peace within my expanded notion of responsibility that ensures I am always actively engaged in creative practices that build our world in alignment with all of our relations.

It is important to note that settler colonialism is immersive and insidious, normalized and obscured through conscious, unconscious, structural, and relational ways. We can love our children deeply and still be complicit in these structures. We can consciously acknowledge that our children are teaching us and still be complicit in these structures.

The conditions in which I became a parent have been hellish, to say the least. I got pregnant a couple of months before the pandemic started and spent much of my pregnancy in a state of isolation and uncertainty. When my daughter was 6 months old, I became a single mother, all the while still moving through the ongoing pandemic. My pregnancy in particular is a big source of grief for me, and this pain around not feeling witnessed or held by my web of relationships during such an important time in my life still puts a lump in my throat. And yet, all of these conditions really called upon me to access the knowledge I had within myself and to feel the love and care exuded to me from my ancestors.

In the crushing stillness of our lives, when it was just me and my daughter and a looming pandemic, there were all of these beautiful moments where parenting felt effortlessly innate. In these moments, our relationship existed in complete and utter sovereignty, guarded by the ferocity of the ancestors who so recently ushered her into this life. So much of me pours onto her. So much of her spills onto me. And all of those projections from others, all of the impositions of settler colonialism onto how I should parent, felt so far from what we had, gloriously ours, gloriously whole. It was so beautiful to feel the seeds that my ancestors had planted blossoming out of me as I became a parent.

I am here to celebrate how wholly and expansively capable I am, resourced through the loving hands of my ancestors, we have all of the love and knowledge of the universe accessible within our bodies.

Anishinaabeg creative practice insists I approach my daughter as a knowledgeable and whole human being with agency, one who has so recently schemed, laughed, and visited with our ancestors. It was healing to parent through challenging conditions and to feel how this practice lives within me. However, in acknowledging what is innately within me, I do not want to romanticize what it means to be an Anishinaabeg parent. I struggle and fail. I feel lonely and under-resourced. I learn from others about how to parent. I follow toddler teaching Instagram accounts. I make mistakes. I am complicit in different forms of settler colonialism.

But within this struggle I want to celebrate everything else that is present as well, I want to celebrate the moments of effortless innateness. For me, this is what is so amazing about being Anishinaabeg: I am resourced not only through my own capabilities and the support network of family and friends, but also through my ancestors and spirit kin, who continue to do such hard work for us in love and reverence. Anishinaabeg culture is not just passed down through community and family; it is also innate, living, and flourishing within our bones and belly.

I feel so tender talking about Anishinaabeg creative practice, especially when I think about the violence my family has faced. It was so very recently that the residential school system directly assaulted Anishinaabeg peoples’ capacities to parent, love, and be loved. My father was taken to residential school when he was 8 years old and experienced horrendous and grotesque assaults to his body and spirit. There are so many things I should have received as a child that I did not, that he did not, that my ancestors did not. There are so many ways I was not directly taught to parent, love, and be loved. And yet, so much pours out of me. Despite what was done to my father, so much poured out of him and onto me, the dull hum of our ancestors’ voices, the feeling of them swirling deep within us. Our knowledge pours out of us like a steady stream of stars. Native parents are often represented as incapable and irresponsible, but I am here to celebrate how wholly and expansively capable I am, resourced through the loving hands of my ancestors, we have all of the love and knowledge of the universe accessible within our bodies.

My daughter descended from the stars into my body, and as she did we danced together amongst pink galaxies, so happy to be reunited again in these specific bodies. We have worked so hard together to weather a very challenging pregnancy and early life of isolation, loneliness, and grief. When I gave birth, even without my mother, even without my web of closest friends who were supposed to be there, I felt so strong and powerful and capable, and I could feel the universe swelling inside of my body. I am so proud of myself. I am so proud of her. I am so proud of my beautiful father, my beautiful mother, for giving me what they could despite it all. Becoming a parent, although so hard, has allowed me to slow down and feel the sprouting of so many seeds that were planted within my bones and belly, that are tended to through my ancestors in the great beyond, and I feel a great joy at what has been protected for me.

Anishinaabeg creative practice, that continuum of creation, that dance with our ancestors to build our beautiful futures, will always be the greatest foundation I could ever ask for.

Quill Christie-Peters is an Anishinaabe arts programmer and self-taught visual artist currently residing in Northwestern Ontario. She currently works as the Director of Education for the Indigenous Curatorial Collective. She is the creator of the Indigenous Youth Residency Program, an artist residency for Indigenous youth that engages land-based creative practices through Anishinaabe artistic methodologies. She holds a Masters degree in Indigenous Governance on Anishinaabe art-making as a process of falling in love and sits on the board of directors for Native Women in the Arts. Her written work can be found in GUTS Magazine and Tea N’ Bannock and her visual work can be found at @raunchykwe.